It may be the most-visited destination in the United States, but let’s face it, when most people travel to Orlando, they’re going to see Mickey, Minnie, and their character cohorts at Disney’s juggernaut of theme parks. Of course, Orlando hosts loads of other theme parks (Harry Potter, anyone?), an ever-increasing number of new attractions, like the Orlando Eye, and a jaw-dropping number of outlet stores, chain restaurants and soulless hotels.
I have my share of both old and new fantastic memories at the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT — I love them both, but otherwise, I’ve always envisioned the rest of Orlando as a bit of a soulless wasteland in the form of family-friendly attractions.
Sure, that stuff is there, but prior to my trip there last month, I never had the opportunity to discover Orlando’s outer reaches. Much to my surprise and delight, I found a number of neighborhoods that were funky, eclectic, charming, and downright pretty. I want to explore more and find myself further smitten.
Here’s a peek at some of my favorites:
The tony enclave of Winter Park first gained notice as a winter retreat for well-to-do northerners. It still quite stately, with lovely Central Park, and a 10-block stretch (Park Avenue), where you can pop into designer boutiques, drink craft cocktails at trendy restaurants, and visit the wonderful Morse Museum, home to a phenomenal Tiffany glass collection.
I am in love with East End Market, a hipster food lover’s dream. I found artisan everything (and no, I’m not ashamed to admit I dig artisan everything). The Market also houses a fantastic Basque-style Spanish restaurant, Txokos, and a little bookstore. Other must-stop spots included the Blue Bird Bake Shop, where you can snarf lovely little cupcakes, and indie shops like Dear Prudence, and Park Ave CDs (yes, there are still record and CD stores!).
There were other neighborhoods as well, and we also hit up Thornton Park, and the Church Street District. Even better the list of amazing restaurants is loooong, and I STILL have more places where I want to explore (and eat). ‘Til next time, Orlando…
As a travel writer, I get to stay in my fair share of very nice hotels — even my fair share of Four Seasons — and still, I have to give major props to Four Seasons Orlando for being one of the nicest properties I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. The property is relatively new and absolutely exquisite. Fine dining and rooftop views of the Disney park fireworks? Check. Lazy river, adults-only and kids pools? Check. Top-notch decor and uber-comfy guestrooms? Check. Golf course? Yup, that too. Plus, the resort is associated with Disney, and a private bus will take you to the theme parks if you are, in fact, missing the mouse.